Rinzin Wangchuk and Tashi Dema 

While a team of three senior police officers are independently investigating the Chamgang jail protest in a video clip that went viral online last weekend, it was learnt that it was more than a protest.

A source alleged that the inmates have actually barricaded and reinforced the gate with wires and metal bed frames, and hung LPG gas cylinders on the gate to harm police officials on duty if they enter by force. “After the protest video went viral online, police checked the CCTVs and saw the plan the inmates hatched. That is why the police couldn’t go inside.”

He alleged that police had to use fire engines to spray water to disperse the inmates. “It took until 3am for the police to control the situation.”

A police source, on condition of anonymity, refuted the allegations of using the fire brigade, stating it was brought for safety as they learned the prisoners could use fire to retaliate. 

It was learnt that of the four prison blocks in Chamgang, inmates of one block protested after police confiscated 35 mobiles and drugs from the block that week.

Police have initially said that the protest video was used as a means to divert an ongoing investigation into phones and drugs smuggled into the central jail.

It was learnt that prisoners in the block were those serving prison sentences between 10 to 30 years. “The main person behind the viral video protest was imprisoned for murder in Thimphu and the other one is serving a prison term for rape of a minor in Dagana,” a source said.

It is not known how many inmates were involved in the protest as the investigations are ongoing.

In the video protest, inmates were seen shouting for justice alleging the new officer-in-charge of Chamgang jail has been beating prisoners. They even accused the officers of favouritism in the treatment of prisoners.

The protest video raised many questions and netizens accused police of helping the inmates acquire the phones and drugs. Some accused police of failing in their duties.

“If police are giving special preference to some prisoners, that is not fair. Everyone should be treated the same,” one said. “Investigations should look into that aspect too.”

Sources within the police also agreed with the lapses surrounding prison duties. “If the inmates possess drugs and phones, we have failed in some aspect of our duty,” a senior officer said.

Another officer said that some police personnel on duty in Chamgang have become too familiar with some of the prisoners. “According to the Prison Act, those on duty should be changed from time to time, but that does not happen in reality. Some have been on duty in Chamgang for too long.”

He said that some officers in Chamgang have been lenient with the prisoners, and when other officers try to implement the rules, it does not go well with the inmates. “We will know more about the allegations of assault after the ongoing investigation is complete, but things have to change there. It will get worse if we don’t stop drugs, alcohol, and phones from making their way in there. It will become too risky to be a jailer.”

A source said that they are investigating whether any police personnel are involved in making drugs and phones available to the prisoners. “But Chamgang jail infrastructure is such that anyone could throw anything inside. Hundreds of prisoners also move in and out of the jail on a daily basis for court hearings and reformative programmes.”

But other sources said police must have helped inmates avail the drugs and phones. “It will be difficult to prove now, but a thorough investigation should be done,” an officer said. “No one will throw phones over the wall.”

Meanwhile, unrest and taking part in any attack or assault is graded a major offence according to the Prison Act 2009.